Getting divorced may be a complicated and emotional process. Many times couples expect that the legal process will be equally draining and even ugly.
However, in Rhode Island, when neither spouse plans to contest the divorce (or any aspect of the divorce proceeding), the couple may choose a simpler route by filing for an uncontested, no-fault divorce.
The uncontested, no-fault process is generally much easier and shorter than pursuing a contested divorce based on fault. However, in order to pursue an uncontested divorce, both spouses have to agree on all of their divorce-related issues, from the reasons for filing for divorce to the final division of property.
If you have questions about an uncontested divorce in Rhode Island, you should contact an experienced family law attorney.
An uncontested divorce is possible when both spouses agree to terminate their marriage and agree on how to resolve all of their divorce-related issues, such as alimony, child custody, child support, and the division of property.
While some states have a special process for an uncontested divorce (sometimes called a "simplified dissolution"), Rhode Island does not. So, the easiest way to get an uncontested divorce in Rhode Island is to file for a no-fault divorce and explain to the court that you and your spouse agree on all of the issues in your case, including the reason for the split.
A no-fault divorce in Rhode Island is when one spouse claims there are "irreconcilable differences" that make the marriage beyond repair. Even if one or both spouses are at fault in causing the differences, the court does not recognize fault in this type of divorce case. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-3.1.) Avoiding claims of fault simplify the divorce process.
You must meet the following requirements to file a no-fault divorce in Rhode Island:
You and your spouse must resolve all financial issues before the judge issues the final divorce order. You must either have property and alimony claims settled before the final divorce, or have your claim filed with the court before the divorce is final. You cannot bring property distribution or alimony cases to court after the judge finalizes your divorce. If you wait until after your divorce is final, you will have lost the right to make any financial claims.
To begin the divorce process, one spouse, the "plaintiff," will file divorce papers with the family court clerk at the local courthouse. (R.I. Gen. Stat. § 15-5-13) The other spouse, the "defendant," will submit a reply to the papers.
After you file the paperwork, the spouses must wait 90 days, after which the court will set a court hearing. (R.I. Gen. Stat. § 15-5-23) Usually, both spouses attend and testify at the hearing. After both spouses (and witnesses) complete their testimony, the judge will grant the divorce.
You may seek an uncontested divorce, whether you and your spouse have children together or not. If you do have children together, you may also be required to participate in a divorcing parent class. You should check the requirements for this at your local courthouse.
You may choose to handle your divorce without the help of a lawyer. If you go forward on your own, you must be sure to follow the filing instructions carefully. The judge and court staff are not allowed to provide legal advice, and any errors in your paperwork may cause you to have to start the process over from the beginning.
The following instructions assume that you and your spouse agree on the divorce and that both of you are willing to sign all of the required divorce documents. If one spouse contests or disputes any aspect of the divorce, the process will require you to take additional steps, in which case you should consult a family law attorney about your case.
File the divorce complaint
You will need to file a "Complaint for Divorce," along with other required forms. Most of the forms you will need are available from the family court clerk where you file. Some forms may also be available online at the Rhode Island Judiciary website.
You'll need to pay filing fees when you submit your divorce papers, but if your income is below a certain level, the court may waive your fee. If you think you may qualify for this, you must file a form called an In Forma Pauperis petition, which you can by searching under "District Court" at the court's website or find at the clerk's office.
Serve your spouse and file a proof of service
Serving papers on your spouse means asking the sheriff's office to deliver the divorce papers to your spouse. First, you must deliver a copy of the divorce paperwork to the sheriff. After delivering the documents, the deputy will fill out a form to submit to the court that confirms delivery. You must then file a copy of that form with the clerk's office in order to prove that your spouse received the necessary paperwork and notice of the proceeding. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-20.)
Prepare for your hearing
You will need to bring two witnesses to your hearing, who can testify that:
Your spouse, if planning to appear, will also need a witness.
At your hearing, you and your spouse will testify, along with your witnesses. If your spouse does not show up to the hearing, the court may consider your case to be a "default divorce." In a default divorce, the judge will only hear from the side that appears in the case and will grant the divorce based on what that party has requested.
Finalize your divorce
After the hearing, you are not yet officially divorced. You must submit additional forms to the court, including a "Decision Pending Entry of Final Judgment" and a "Final Judgment." After you complete and submit the documents and the court approves them, you and your spouse will both be legally single.
For more information on uncontested divorce in Rhode Island, review the Rhode Island General Laws, Title 15, Chapter 15.